Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Evil Things (2009)

Let me take you back a few weeks to me standing in from of the mailbox, perplexed by a package stamped “official business” and with a return address of the FBI! My first thought was, “They’re onto me!”, but inside the package was an evidence baggie containing a DVD marked “confidential”. Along with the DVD was a very official-looking letter asking for my  help in a missing persons case. At this point I thought, “Whew! At least this doesn’t have to do with that unfortunate ‘incident’!” As I read the letter, I quickly clued into the fact that this was the marketing package for the indie film Evil Things. I remembered watching the trailer, which intrigued me but didn’t stand out all that much, but the clever marketing materials and packaging really made me eager to check out the film.

I popped in the “evidence” and sat back for what was to come. The film starts with five friends from New York City leaving the wintry confines of the city and heading upstate for a fun, relaxing weekend. It’s Mirian’s (Elyssa Mersdorf) birthday, and her aunt has let her use her isolated vacation house for a party with four of her friends – couple Cassy (Laurel Casillo) and Mark (Morgan Hooper), bratty Tanya (Torrey Weiss) and amateur film student Leo (Ryan Maslyn) who insists on filming everything with his hand-held camera. Before they even get there, though, they have to make it upstate through a treacherous snow-storm. Not only that, but some asshole in a van keeps messing with them and later it appears that he is following them. When they finally arrive at Miriam’s aunt’s house, everyone is relieved and they start to celebrate!

The next morning they all decide to trek out into the snow-covered woods to find some caves. When it becomes apparent that they are lost, they try to find their way back to the house…but they keep getting turned around. As night falls and they are still lost, they begin hearing strange noises just outside the beams of their flashlights. After being spooked, they finally find the house again…but what awaits them when they are inside is much more sinister than they could have ever imagined.

It seems as if the “found footage” technique is being used a lot in horror nowadays. From Cloverfield, [REC], The Blair Witch Project to Diary of the Dead, this technique really does work if done properly, especially since we are now a YouTube generation where anyone can have their 15 minutes of fame. While some might jump the gun and instantly compare Evil Things to the grandaddy of all hand-held camera films, The Blair Witch Project, I would ask that you hold off comparisons until AFTER you watch Evil Things. While it might share some similarities to Blair Witch, Evil Things is still a frightening, effective film that just begs to be seen! I thought the idea to shoot the film on handheld camcorder was pretty genius, especially considering the small budget filmmaker Dominic Perez had to work with. I also liked how the scary scenes came out of nowhere, and while you never really “see” anything, the sounds and reactions of the characters are enough to make you crap your pants!

Though the last 30 minutes or so of the film are incredibly tense, I felt that the first hour of the film dragged on and on. The scenes of them driving to the aunt’s house went on far too long and really should have been edited down. However, I did enjoy the mounting tension when they kept seeing the van that had been harassing them. The characters reactions to seeing the van repeatedly really felt genuine. One thing I will say about the first hour is that you really get a feel for the characters. They are just a group of normal-looking college kids and they have enough personality to make them all likable and stand out. I also liked several funny scenes that were in the film, including one where they all bust in on Leo taking a bubble bath, turning his camera on him and another scene where Cassy dons a wig that was lying around the house and pretends to be Leo’s mother. These kind of scenes really make the characters endearing and that much more sympathetic when the terror sets in…

As for the actors, they all did an amazing job. Usually in indie films the acting is the worst part of the film, but in Evil Things it was one of the best. Every single actor felt natural, like they really were just a bunch of people being filmed by their friend during a vacation. As mentioned above, all the actors were likable and you really didn’t want them to succumb to “evil things”.

When the terror does arrive it is unrelenting and very frightening. We get the first clues that something is amiss with the creepy van following the group and again with the eerie noises in the woods, but the sh*t really hits the fan when they get back to the house towards the end of the film. Here, they realize they are not alone and haven’t been for a while. Though nothing is explicitly seen, everything, from the terrified reactions of the characters to slamming doors to strange noises to creepy camera angles, keeps the atmosphere tense and you on the edge of your seat. The finale will leave your jaw hanging wide open and wondering exactly what just happened, while scenes that roll over the credits ensure that the terror continues.

Writer and director Dominic Perez has done a fantastic job with Evil Things. The story, the direction, the location and the scare tactics were near perfect and make this an exciting film to watch. I do think the title isn’t descriptive enough of the film and is too generic. Still, despite that Evil Things is definitely a must-see! What makes it even creepier is that Perez was inspired to make this film after an incident he experienced as a young child:

“The inspiration for this movie came from an incident in my own life when I was a 10 year old boy.  I was sleeping over a childhood friend’s house and his mom left us home alone for a few hours while she was out working late.  So we stayed up eating ice cream and watching TV.  Then a knock came at the door.  We were taught never to open the door to strangers so we politely asked, ‘who is it?’  There was no answer.  We looked through the peephole, but it was broken.  Another knock came at the door.  We said louder ‘yes, who is it?’  There was still no answer.  We could see under the crack of the door that someone wearing big black boots was standing still on the other side of the door, but they never answered.  There was just a soft terrifying knock knock that came every 30 seconds.  After about the fifth knock knock we were screaming at the top of our lungs ‘who the F**K is it?’  I have never been so incredibly scared in my entire life.  There was never an answer, just silence for 10 terrifying minutes.  That was more than 30 years ago, and I’m still scared to death wondering what would have happened had we opened that door.”

The creepiness of that incident translates extremely well to Evil Things and despite some of its flaws it is one of the most gripping and frightening indie films I’ve seen this year!

The film is currently seeking distribution and has been submitted to various film festivals, so jump at the chance if you get to see it!

Buy on Amazon!

For more info and lots of extra goodies, visit Evil Things’ Official Website!

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